10 Best Practices For Conflict Resolution With Clients As a Freelancer

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Introduction

Clients are always right… umm, no.

Throughout the past five years of full-time freelancing, I cannot recall how many times I’ve butted heads with a client. There could be many reasons: a late invoice, lacking communication, micromanagement, or sometimes, the fault on my end.

The thing is, if you’re afraid of client conflict, you really should think twice if freelancing is right for you. Because it is inevitable that you must put your foot down and draw a solid boundary with your clients — and that often leads to a slightly uncomfortable conversation, if not an argument.

And that’s why freelancers must learn the best practices for conflict resolution with clients.

Just like dating, a big fight usually reveals underlying problems. If both parties are willing to communicate and work through things together, then the conflict helps the relationship get stronger.

So, if you’ve just had an unpleasant moment with a client, take a deep breath, then keep reading. You’ll thank me later.

Why Client Relationship Management Matters For Freelancers

I’m not talking about taking care of those large accounts. I’m saying every client you come across, including the ones you decide to drop.

That’s because knowing how to manage client relationships can

  • Elevate your reputation among your target audience
  • Extend project lifespan
  • Keep clients coming back
  • Bring you more referrals
  • Avoid angry clients and negative public reviews to the maximum

Client relationship management is a process and should cover their entire journey. This means even if you have to terminate a project with a client, there are better ways to handle the situation, so you don’t burn bridges —

— because, in the freelancing world, more options are always better. Therefore, knowing how to resolve client conflict is vital to client relationship management.

Now, without further ado, let’s get down to the ten best practices for conflict resolution with clients as a freelancer.

Hold Yourself Accountable

“It is not my fault!”

Not saying it is, though.

Holding yourself accountable is nothing like taking full responsibility. It is simply admitting that you contributed to the conflict somewhere throughout the process.

Remember: You’re the freelancer, the professional. Your client is the customer, the outsider. So take ownership.

A few great ways to apologize to a client are

  • I can see how my communication was unclear and I apologize
  • I apologize for how our last conversation ended. Would you like to…
  • I see the confusion around XYZ and agree with you regarding…

Also, remember:

Usually, both the freelancer and the client are responsible for a hiccup during the project. Since you cannot control or change your client, it’s up to you to bring resolution — unless you just want to send a termination letter.

Explain That You’re On The Client’s Side

Angry people are defensive. Angry, paying people are 10x more defensive. Many clients don’t understand that it doesn’t do you any good if things go wrong. The moment a conflict happened, you became their enemy.

Therefore, start by ensuring them you’re on their side. Be gentle and compassionate. Tell them how you understand their frustration and validate their feelings.

If you intend on resuming the relationship and your current project, be ready to make compromises. Don’t worry — once the relationship begins its repair, most clients are reasonable and understand the sacrifice you’ve made.

Meanwhile, even if you disqualify this client, explain to them why you believe termination is the best option for everyone in this situation. Remind them you’re their ally and try to get a positive review, too.

Back Yourself With Data

Remember I said holding yourself accountable didn’t mean holding yourself responsible for the situation? Yup. And that’s why I cannot highlight the importance of data-driven decision-making enough!

Need to prove that you were right all along? Aggregated data.

Need to prove a client is making a harmful decision for themselves? Data from better performing competitors.

Need to introduce a best practice? Data from noteworthy case studies.

Data doesn’t lie. So when a client refuses to listen, use solid evidence to prove your point.

Propose Alternative Solutions

Never-ever approach an open issue without solutions. They don’t have to be fully drawn out. A few suggestions on how to move forward would be sufficient. For example

  • Propose new work hours
  • Offer a payment installation or extension 
  • Modifying service provided
  • Adjusting communication methods

Then, your client would either accept your proposal, tell you they no longer want to work with you or share their ideas for a solution with you.

Always Ask For Confirmation

Some confirmation-requesting phrases are:

  • Is this what you would prefer?
  • Does that solve your problem?
  • Could you give me a verbal yes before we move forward according to XYZ?

A written confirmation is your best tool to protect yourself if things go sour. However, the confirmation method also builds validation within your client’s mind. It helps them to feel more confident with the solution as well. Finally, it’s also a great way to promote accountability in your communication.

Dig To The Roots

Once you’ve got a confirmation, go the extra mile and make sure nothing else led to the conflict. Ask your client if anything else was concerning them, if they’d like to do a project review, or whether they have any suggestions for you.

I know you’d rather resolve the client conflict ASAP. However, it’s best to be as thorough as possible than having another conflict down the road for something you could’ve addressed now.

Treat Your Client With Respect

Being right doesn’t justify being disrespectful. Therefore, approach your client conflicts cautiously.

Some great ways to tell a client they are wrong are

  • Instead of accusation, appreciate them for trusting your professional judgement
  • Provide data and analysis to help them understand the mistake
  • Call them out with disrespectful behaviors on their end without losing your temper

Meanwhile, check your attitude within the first few days after the conflict and whenever it comes up in the conversation. Sometimes we subconsciously want to make things even for how much we bowed our heads. So, remind yourself to be respectful and humble. Don’t brag about how you were right or make your client feel dumb.

Improve Communication With Your Client

The best way to resolve client conflicts is better communication. Some client communication best practices include

  • Keep all important communications through emails
  • Use a professional communication tool like Slack over private texting
  • Paraphrase and repetition to get confirmations
  • Create touch points throughout the project for periodical evaluations
  • Have an onboarding and offboarding process

Document Every Decision Made

Always document every decision. Verbal agreements won’t stand, so ensure something is written regarding important items, such as updated deadlines, new work processes, adjusted scopes, and modified payments.

Worst case scenario, you’ll need these records to protect yourself from a nightmare client.

Know When To Drop a Client: How Much Conflict Is Too Much

Sometimes, it’s best to end a relationship. For one, it’s never too late to run from a toxic client. Other times, your expertise and their project simply no longer align.

Ensure you have an offboarding process for terminated projects — aka, you know how to fire a client, because firing a client doesn’t mean burning a bridge. If handled properly, they can still become potential referrals or future clients.

Ask for client feedback and try to understand their experience. See if you can make any introductions or provide any information for them. 

Client Not Paying Invoices

Talking to clients about money is a different story and doesn’t fall into the usual conflict resolution bucket. Why? Because you’re protected by law to be paid on time. Therefore, now is the time for you to go straight to the point and show your authority and control.

Evaluate The Situation

Whenever a late payment happens, evaluate the situation first. Is this the first time this client is late? How long have you known each other/worked together? Did something happen in their life that might cause the late payment? These questions help you determine what your next steps should be.

Meanwhile, revisit your contract. Were there any late fee terms? Did you mention how you’d handle late invoices? If the client refuses to pay and claims it was because of something you did, did you include a bleach of contract term to indicate how you shouldn’t be responsible in the situation?

Prepare For Worst Case Scenario

Most freelancers and small businesses can’t afford to seek legal help on one or two late invoices unless the volume justifies it. Therefore, it’s always smart to prepare for the worst: you’re not getting paid whatsoever.

Starting with an attorney’s letter — you can get those without actually activating a suit, and it’s a great way to scare a payment-bailing client.

If all communication fails, decide if you want to head to small-claims court (up to $5,000 in amount involved) by yourself, get an attorney, or take the loss.

Sometimes that’s how things end. Next time, look for the toxic client red flags and stay away from them. Lesson learned.

Compassion-Driven Conflict Resolution

We are quite similar to our clients because we are all human. Therefore, the only golden rule to conflict resolution with clients for freelancers is staying compassionate. Talk to them how you’d like to be spoken to, and give them the patience, dedication, and kindness you’d wish to receive in return.

However, never hesitate to draw your boundary because you deserve just as much peace and respect as your clients.

Featured Image: Unsplash

Xiao DaCunha

With a deep passion for content creation and creative writing, Xiao Faria finds a strong sense of accomplishment in creating high-quality content that engages the audience and benefits optimization.

Throughout years of practice, Xiao has learned to communicate with the readers in the most efficient and effective way. Her experience as a visual artist has only aided her in creating refreshing and entertaining content.

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Xiao DaCunha

With a deep passion for content creation and creative writing, Xiao Faria finds a strong sense of accomplishment in creating high-quality content that engages the audience and benefits optimization. Throughout years of practice, Xiao has learned to communicate with the readers in the most efficient and effective way. Her experience as a visual artist has only aided her in creating refreshing and entertaining content.

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